If you have ever worked with children, you know that dealing with bodily fluids and functions is just part of your daily routine. For those of us on the front lines of the classroom, we know that the term Teacher is all encompassing; the definition one who teaches can never suffice. Among a multitude of other jobs, the classroom teacher must be the class doctor, the class counselor, the class coach, and even the classroom referee! If only teachers were also mind-readers, then we would know for sure if the student actually does need to use the restroom, or if he has a sneaky ulterior motive.
In order to create a safe and nurturing learning environment, teachers must somehow figure out how to balance it all. Allow too much freedom and pupils will take advantage; be too strict and they will be fearful and disengaged.
It wasn’t until I was pregnant and found myself in need of many, many bathroom breaks that I began to truly sympathize with my pupils, and consequently adjust my classroom management plan with regard to bathroom use. I had to learn for myself, that when my mind was focused elsewhere, I was unable to do my best work; the same was true for my first graders.
Here are some helpful hints and tips to prevent accidents, work with frequent bathroom users, and clean-up in confidence if that awful moment does arise.
Know Before You Go
Have a plan in place. Whether it’s a zero-tolerance policy or an open door, get up and go whenever you feel like it kind of policy, make it clear to your class from the minute they walk in that door, how they are to deal with needing to use the restroom. Remember that all teachers manage their classes differently. A second grader who is used to having a bathroom in the room with the freedom to use it on an as needed basis, will need significant time to adjust to a new routine.
Here are some tips on how to prevent students from asking to be excused from class or having an accident in class:
- Explain your policy on using the bathroom. Have it posted and signed by the parents. Explain WHY your policy is this way. (i.e. Is it based on the school policy? Is it because the bathroom is far away? Is it to maximize instructional minutes?)
- Make sure that the academic work is at the child’s instructional level. Children who are frustrated with the level of work will find excuses to avoid it.
- Talk with parents to find out if any children do, in fact, have a medical condition that would require more frequent bathroom use. HINT: Parents may not think to tell you this unless you ask.
- Plan for frequent bathroom breaks and build a routine so that pupils’ bodies will get used to going to the bathroom at the same time each day.
- If there is not a formal recess or lunch break coming up, then maybe allow tables or small groups to be excused during independent work time. More breaks are needed during hot weather when more fluids are being consumed.
- Make sure kids are actually using the bathroom during break times. TIP: If they are rushing out to recess to play (instead of going to the restroom), leave class five minutes early so that everyone can use the restroom before anyone is allowed to play. Another option is to give everyone five minutes at the end of recess to go again.
- If you have knowledge of an upcoming assembly or fire drill, ensure that everyone try to use the restroom before this event occurs. Do not allow any other fun activity to take place during this bathroom time. When given the choice between finishing an art project and using the restroom, young children will inevitably choose the more exciting activity.
- Eliminate or reduce the consumption of sugary or caffeinated drinks during the day.
- Make your schedule and clock visible to the whole class. Allow them to see when their next break is, so they can plan accordingly.
- Youngsters truly do forget to go to the bathroom. Remind them often and check when they return to see if they really did go.
- Don't forget that there are some children who are too afraid to ask to use the bathroom. Make sure that your responses to other pupils' bathroom requests are treated respectfully, or you risk creating fear in those who are naturally timid.
- Last but not least: Make your instruction interesting so that kids want to stay in class!
Uh-Oh...I Gotta Go
In a typical class of 20 kindergarteners, ideally, all 20 are on task. When one child feels the urge to urinate, he or she immediately becomes off task. The worst thing the teacher can do is to cause the other 19 kids to become off task in an attempt to address the issue with the one child who needs to use the bathroom.
Here are some more tips for dealing with this in a way that will minimize distraction:
- Create a non-verbal hand signal or sign that students can use. The American Sign Language signal is simply the first two fingers are crossed (the sign for the letter R) and waved back and forth. Pupils who merely raise their hand may not be called on, or when they do, their bathroom request will be off-topic and disruptive.
- Have a predesignated bathroom monitor to escort the child. This will help eliminate children from asking to use the bathroom just to hang out with their buddy. It will also prevent the teacher from having to stop teaching in order to find a buddy. You may also consider opposite sex buddies so that one person must remain outside. (This depends on grade level and layout of bathroom area)
- Ask the child if he can hold it or if it is an emergency. If the child seems to be fine and can hold it, then give a small reward for doing so (verbal praise such as “Thank you for being a big girl” will often suffice). If you see the potty dance (or other signs that it is an emergency) then quietly allow the child to go, but then remind him or her of your policy.
- Use a “ticket” system where pupils can earn bathroom tickets to use whenever they choose. (Be careful that this does not get out of hand)
- Pupils can “owe the teacher minutes”. In other words, if he takes two minutes of class time to use the bathroom, then he or she must give up two minutes of a pleasurable activity (recess, art, computer lab etc…).
- Note if the same child is requesting to use the bathroom frequently. Talk with him and his family. There could be a real medical or social problem that needs to be addressed. Also please note the child’s economic situation; children who are living in poverty or homelessness may only have access to a clean and functional bathroom at school, and consequently, use it more frequently during class time.
- Don’t get angry with the child! This only wastes valuable class time and stops your instruction. It could be embarrassing to him, or give him the attention that he or she secretly wants.
Clean-Up Room 4
Inevitably, time will come when you realize that there has been an accident. Whether it's fear, dread, or plain embarrassment, the room will flood with emotion and the teacher’s reaction will forever affect that student.
Here are some helpful tips for managing the mess:
- Be sensitive to the child. Young children may not report the accident, but instead try to cover it up. Notice that he or she is acting unusual, refusing to get out of his seat, or is approaching your desk with a weird look.
- Allow the child to exit the room as quickly and quietly as possible. Send a note to the nurse, or whoever is designated to assist in this situation (do not make a phone call that can be overheard by peers).
- Keep the rest of the class on task and away from the area as much as possible. Try your best to completely ignore questions like, “What happened?” Redirect them to a more interesting activity. TIP: Have an independent and fun activity on hand (blocks or movie) for anytime that you need to deal with a pressing, non-teaching event such as this. Maintain the child’s privacy without making it a grand event.
- Immediately address anyone who makes a negative comment or inappropriate sound or gesture. Use this time as a teachable moment about politeness and empathy for others. If you handle the situation with maturity and ease, so will your class.
- Remember that urine is sterile. Although not pleasant, it will not make anyone sick. Have gloves, paper towels, and disinfectant spray ready to use if your school’s janitor is unavailable to do the cleanup. Kitty litter will also work well in these situations.
- In order to avoid having the child sit and wait for the parent to bring clean clothes, at the beginning of the year ask parents to donate clothing to your class that can be used in case of an accident. HINT: This also works for sweatshirts and jackets on those cold days when parents have forgotten to send one with their child.
- Above all, please remember that you don’t just teach math or reading; you teach children. Moreover, you teach children whose bladders are half your size! I know that it is impossible to plan for every child and to prepare for every possible situation, and I know that teachers are not mind-readers. But at the end of the day, the time spent dealing with an accident will always be greater than that spent preventing one from happening.
This teacher’s guide helps young learners to better understand why it is important to make healthy food choices. They can take a survey and maintain a food journal to help them identify how much junk food they are consuming. This lesson is written for upper graders, but would work well as a family project for youngsters. Hopefully, kids will learn that healthy eating and drinking will lead to less frequent bathroom use.
In this simple tool, pupils can write down reasons for being responsible and why responsibility is an important part of building character. This can be used in September as a way of introducing classroom rules for bathroom use or as a reminder activity for those who are not making responsible bathroom choices later in the school year. Upper graders can write their own responses, while younger children can discuss their answers orally.
Here is a hands-on art lesson where pupils create art using only materials that can be found in a bathroom. This can be a fun and exciting way to encourage children to use the bathroom wisely. They can look around their own bathrooms at home and bring in Q-tips, cotton balls, tissue, small combs, and other cool objects that can be used to make art!
If you have older learners who are constantly asking to go to the restroom, then use this lesson plan to turn the restroom into a math lesson. Learners calculate the number of tiles needed to cover a bathroom floor. Then, use the school’s restroom as a launch pad for endless word problems (think: perimeter, area, volume etc…) and you can ensure that they are thinking about math while taking care of business!